Saturday, March 16, marks one year since the first CATS light rail train pulled onto campus, forever changing the landscape of UNC Charlotte’s campus and its connection with the entire city of Charlotte—North Carolina’s largest and most vibrant city.
The experiences of students, faculty and staff, who now can travel between the main campus in University City and UNC Charlotte Center City in 25 minutes, demonstrate that indeed we are connected like never before. The same is true for prospective students who visit campus, 49ers fans who ride light rail during football, basketball and baseball seasons, alumni who return to campus for events, and our business and community partners.
With nearly 30,000 students—ranking third-largest in the UNC System—the University’s campus community delivers a critical group of riders for the light rail system. Additionally, the alignment and the neighborhoods it passes through provide a unique laboratory for faculty researchers exploring how transit investments affect neighborhood change.
Here are some of the ways light rail is making an impact on the UNC Charlotte community.
Since opening day, CATS light rail has provided a convenient connection between campus and Uptown—and beyond. And the campus community is taking full advantage of this resource. During the past year, Niner Nation has explored the Queen City and everything it has to offer.
Xuan Trong, graduate student
“Light rail has been a game changer for me. It allows me easy access to the University’s main campus and Center City Building for my studies while providing the perfect option to explore South End when I want to go to dinner with friends. As a Charlottean, the light rail has become an essential part of my life.”
Mitch Daratony, alumnus
“I love the light rail! I live in NoDa and ride it uptown daily to work. It’s become the best way for me to stay connected with the University, especially for Charlotte 49er football games. It’s so easy to get to campus without worrying about parking or traffic, and it’s a super safe and responsible way to enjoy tailgating!”
Karen Weatherington, 49ers volleyball coach
“The light rail has been an extremely convenient option when my husband and I carpool for work. He’s able to drop me off at the Woodlawn Station near his office in SouthPark and I can easily get to UNC Charlotte. It’s a fun adventure to ride a packed train to uptown and continue the scenic ride to campus. I’m a big fan!”
Natalie Huie ’14, Center City staff member
“As an alum and University employee, I enjoy being able to ride the light rail from my office in UNC Charlotte Center City to main campus for meetings and events. It provides a great option for 49er alums to come back to campus for sporting events and alumni occasions.”
Recognizing that transportation can be a challenge for students, the University partnered with community organizations located along the Blue Line to create internships with a built-in safe and reliable commuting option. Here are a few:
Discovery Place (7th Street Station)
Candis Hoskins, junior, Biology and Spanish: "For an aspiring veterinarian, Discovery Place provides the perfect environment for me to learn while exploring my passion. Through my internship, I’m working to research how visitors’ feelings of animal conservations are impacted after experiencing an animal exhibit at Discovery Place. But mostly, I love being able to engage with the animals!"
Levine Museum of the New South (7th Street Station)
Chloe Cunningham, sophomore, Criminal Justice: "As part of the Bonner Leaders Program, I’m paired with the Levine Museum of the New South, where I conduct research for the K(NO)W JUSTICE K(NO)W PEACE exhibit, a community-created exhibit about police-involved shootings throughout the nation and in Charlotte. The Bonner Leaders Program and my time at the museum has allowed me to explore my professional interests while learning to communicate and promote leadership in my community. After graduating, I plan on becoming a criminal prosecution lawyer and advocating for better rehabilitation services for individuals convicted of crimes reintegrate into society."
Friendship Trays (New Bern Station)
Krystina Culley, senior, Accounting and Finance: "I write financial grants seeking funding to allow Friendship Trays to continue its mission of providing healthy meals to the elderly across Charlotte. My service has allowed the organization to receive a total of $30,000 to provide meals for our community. Connecting with this partner has allowed me the opportunity to help an organization in a way I never thought was possible. I’m able to use my knowledge of finances to contribute to my community. After graduating, I plan to obtain my law degree in pursuit of being a tax attorney."
Camino Community Center (University City Blvd. Station)
Rebecca De Luna, senior, Biology and Psychology: "I love the Camino Community Center for the variety of ways I’m able to help those in need. I’ve served as volunteer coordinator, translator for the doctors in the free clinic and helped out in the food pantry. As a pre-med major, the clinic allows me to explore my career path in addition to learning the health concerns of the multicultural community that Camino serves. I am passionate about helping my community, especially the Hispanic population, and believe it’s important to support and uplift others."
KEEPING CAMPUS SAFE
Campus safety is always a priority. With the access to campus that light rail provides, UNC Charlotte put in place additional safety measures to accommodate its arrival.
In addition to existing precautions implemented by CATS—like advanced, state-of-the-art cameras and safety officers on trains—the University installed security cameras, extra lighting and blue-light phones on campus. Additional police officers were hired to patrol the area around the light rail station, especially during peak travel times and at night.
“The LYNX light rail has become one of the safest methods of travel for our community. Its arrival has certainly enhanced the relationship between our campus and the public.” – Jeffrey Baker, Chief of Police
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING…
Check out the social media conversation surrounding light rail and UNC Charlotte.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
University leaders have embraced light rail as integral to the University’s upward trajectory and plan for sustained growth. The addition of the LYNX Blue Line extension to campus—and a burgeoning University City—make possible the realization of a decades-long vision to open a hotel and conference center on campus to attract research symposia and academic conferences to Charlotte.
The planned hotel and conference center, scheduled to open in spring 2021, will be located adjacent to the J.W. Clay/UNC Charlotte Station, offering conference attendees and other guests a convenient connection to uptown Charlotte’s cultural, recreational and culinary amenities, without the hassle of parking.
“This facility will serve as a new ‘front door’ to the University, providing a welcoming space for generations of 49ers and Charlotteans,” said Niles Sorensen, president of the UNC Charlotte Foundation, which will fund the majority of the project. “We’ve been planning this for a long time and are eager for it to bring new opportunities for our faculty and alumni to connect to the larger community.”